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Jade cong cylinder with low relief design


Artwork Details

Jade cong cylinder with low relief design
1300 BCE - 1100 BCE
dark green nephrite with white streaks
2 15/16 in x 2 15/16 in x 1 in (7.5 cm x 7.5 cm x 2.6 cm);3 ⅛ in x 5 3/16 in x 5 3/16 in (8 cm x 13.2 cm x 13.2 cm);2 15/16 in x 2 15/16 in x 1 in (7.5 cm x 7.5 cm x 2.6 cm)
Gift of the Estate of Agnes E. Meyer


The froms of the bi (circle) and cong (square) date back to the stone age in China but their original meaning, function, and names are unknown. In the succeeding Bronze Age cultures of the Shang (ca. 1600-1050 BCE) and early Zhou dynasty, cong and bi are rarely found. Unearthed in greater numbers in later Zhou sites, they gained importance in the following Han dynasty, where they were at the core of the earliest Chinese books on philosophy, cosmology, and metaphysics. The Zhou Li (Book of Rites), an ancient Chinese book, compiled by the Zhou dynasty and amended during the Han dynasty (206 BCE- 220 CE), describes the cong as a symbol of earth (square) and the bi as the symbol of heaven (circle).
(Label for UMMA Chinese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject Matter:

ritual object, once probably zoomorphic line carvings on the surface of mystical animals, usually such objects were discovered in elite tombs of the late prehistoric to early Bronze Age China (3rd to 2nd millennium BCE)

Physical Description:

jade cylinder with square shaped exterior and round interior, shallow relief carver on each side, possible representing zoomorphic designs that have been worn off. Dark jade material with many striations and mottles. Come in custom-designed silk box enclosed in a fine hardwood box. The inscription on wooden box indicates that the object was once part of the Duan Fang collection in late 19th century. Duan Fang was a Manchu stateman and reknowned antiquarian. His inscription date the object to the Zhou period. Recent archaeological work suggests that the object was probably made in the late 3rd millennium B.C.E. and remained in circulation by Shang period of the late 2nd millennium B.C.E.

Usage Rights:

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